We all want to be happy.
We want a new car, a bigger house, or a promotion at work. But what we really want is what we think these things will bring us: happiness.
How come we’ve got it so wrong?
What is it that “happy people” do that makes the difference?
I’d spent years climbing the corporate ladder, trying to fit in, earning more money, buying things, following the trends, and chasing down happiness—yet it never arrived.
When I was 30, unfulfilled and burned out, I decided it all had to change. I quit my corporate career, left my relationship, my house, and all the possessions in it. I traveled the world in search of a more simpler life, to understand who I was and what I wanted, and—most importantly—what it is that makes us happy. I learned from many different cultures and experts and took the lessons with me. I applied them to my own life to rebuild it around my passions and happier habits.
It’s not that happy people have perfect lives. They don’t have the best of everything—they make the best of everything. Happy people are not happy all the time, their life is not easier than anyone else’s. They also have challenges, we all do. Happy people are just better at navigating those challenges and bouncing back.
What are the secrets and how can we all do it?
1. Practising kindness.
Being happy is actually about making others happy. Happy people know that the happiness we experience depends on our wish for others to be happy, too. Doing good makes us feel good. Quite often, we can lose sight of this in our “survival of the fittest” society. Small, random acts of kindness also strengthen our sense of purpose. It can be as simple as opening a door to for someone or smiling at the store assistant. Happy peope practice kindness. Practicing kindness to ourselves, to cut to our biggest critic, is important for happiness, too.
2. Being in the present.
In our quest for happiness, we spend a lot of time striving toward our future goals, planning our life and the things we want. When we’re not doing this, we’re often thinking about the past, things we wished we could change, or things we’d like to have gone differently. Worrying about what people have said or what they may think, regretting our actions. This takes us away from the present. Life happens in the now. If we’re not here with it, we miss it. Being present reduces our worries and means that we can be a lot more aware of what is going on around us and able to appreciate that.
3. Appreciating the small things.
Happiness is not about getting what we want but loving what we have. Happy people practice gratitude. They appreciate all the small things in life, every day. Today, for me, it was the sunshine, getting outside in nature, and enjoying the beautiful dinner I cooked. Learning to appreciate the small things will bring perspective on what we really need in our lives to be happy.
4. Living simply.
Happy people have everything they already need. They understand that happiness is not about buying material things or having the biggest, best, and latest of everything. It’s less about what we have and more about who we are. They choose to spend their money on experiences rather than material things. They have mastered the art of living within their means according to what they really need and what they value most in life. For example, spending time with their family.
I’ve been at my happiest when I’ve had no income, no car, and no place to call home. I was doing voluntary work in exchange for food, spending time in ashrams, and living off the land. These are some of the most precious times of my life—they put perspective around how having less can actually mean having more.
Happy people understand there’s a wealth in life beyond money. They enjoy many things in life that come for free. They prioritise time and freedom over money. And because they spend less they are under less pressure financially. You won’t find them working all hours at the cost of a life devoid of fun.
5. Prioritising what matters.
We are so busy making a living these days that we can forget about making a life. Does the way you spend your time align with what you value most in life? In the quest for success, we often prioritise getting stuff done over having fun, spending time with people, resting, taking time out by ourselves, and doing the things we love. This is seen as a nice to have, when we get around to it. But, in this busy day and age, we rarely do.
I spent years in a corporate job I didn’t enjoy. I was climbing the ladder to earn more money. I was so busy I didn’t even know what it was I valued and how unhappy I was until I burned out. Once I took the time to recover and spend time on myself, by myself, and for myself, I began to understand who I was, what I wanted, and what I valued. I then set about changing how I spent my time so this was more aligned.
Happy people understand what they value and what they want. Happiness is less about elation and perfection and more about being connected to who we are, living in accordance with our values, and living meaningful lives that fulfill us.
6. Owning it.
Happy people know that happiness is down to us. For years, I’d put the keys to my happiness in the pockets of others. We look for our soulmate to make us happy or we rely on our family and friends. If they don’t help us, we blame them for our unhappiness. It’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of happiness. But, the truth is we must take ownership for our own happiness.
We are capable of amazing things if we stop doubting our own abilities. It’s often during our biggest challenges that we find out just how much strength we possess.
7. Embracing failure and learning from mistakes.
For a long time, I thought that if I didn’t fail I’d be successful by default. So many of us try to avoid failure at all costs. I’ve learned that failure is how we succeed: By embracing each failure I can learn lessons that make me better next time. I view each failure as a step closer to success. It helps me learn and grow and it also builds my resilience. It’s not that those we admire who are happy and successful are doing it right and we are doing it wrong. They’ve made the mistakes, failed, and learned from them. That is how they succeed.
Happiness is less about what we have and more about how we live our life; the things we do, the way we make people feel, and what we appreciate along the way.
It’s not something external that we must pursue, it’s something we can access inside of ourselves for ourselves.
It’s not something we search for externally and eventually find. It’s less about the destination and much more about the journey—the things we do every day.
Try incorporating some of these happy habits into your daily life and see if you notice the difference.
Author: Jess Stuart
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Supervising Editor: Khara-Jade Warren